After being down 3-2 and going on to force a game seven, Kawhi’s incredible buzzer beater on Sunday sent the Philadelphia 76ers home.
Given the team’s expectations heading into the playoffs (Elton Brand expected this Sixers core to contend for a championship), coach Brett Brown will now have a strong chance of getting fired. The same man who was there since day one, not only experiencing the difficult Sam Hinkie tanking tenure but also grooming and developing Joel Embiid into the player he is today.
Brown has had two good chances, in the past two years, to coach his team to an Eastern Conference Final or an NBA Finals appearance, so is he just another Doug Collins (a good coach who can’t get his team over the hump, unlike the Phil Jacksons of the world) or does his Sixers team simply need to experience more heartbreak before finally being able to take that next step?
And if Brett Brown is fired, could Tyronn Lue become the coach to lead them to the championship? He did it once, but will he be able to finally prove that he can do it without LeBron?
Additionally, the concerns of Jimmy Butler’s, Tobias Harris’, and J.J Redick’s free agency could also come into play this summer.
Upon acquiring Tobias at the trade deadline, only a couple of months shy before pulling the trigger on a Butler trade, Brand told reporters that the organization’s plans were to re-sign both players, regardless if they had to go into the luxury tax since winning is their priority.
But there was also a huge risk involved with these trade acquisitions since these players are unrestricted free agents, not restricted free agents; both players will have the opportunity to explore all of their options and the Sixers will have no control over their decisions other than attempting to court them and influence their decisions.
For many, Jimmy Butler is often the first name that comes to mind for the most likely player to spurn Philadelphia. Everyone is well aware of his difficult personality and the habit he has of rubbing young players the wrong way. Should he have the chance to sign with a team that will make him the focal point of the offense — something Philadelphia can’t offer him — allow him to maintain his all-star status and offer him consistent playoff berth, it might be enough to woo him away.
Yet this is only scratching the surface. The biggest question is how their franchise players, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, can coexist.
One of the most glaring issues during the Sixers’ playoff run this season, as well as last year’s, is how opposing defenses chose to guard a lineup that has Simmons and Embiid sharing the court together. Ideally, Embiid playing down in the block could free up shooters with playing inside-out and allow Embiid to stick to his strengths, however, since defenses sag off of Simmons, the Sixers practically play 4 on 5 and the paint is constantly clogged.
If Simmons was a perimeter threat or at least a respectable one, the offense could function more efficiently, but since that’s not the case, the roles are reversed with Simmons becoming the one to play down in the post and Embiid being forced to stay on the perimeter (he’s the better shooter of the two) and attempt to create better floor spacing, which can be considered a flawed approach: Embiid is not a good enough 3-point shooter (shot 30% in the regular season and the playoffs), so the defender doesn’t fully commit to him.
When discussing the Sixers’ young duo on the sports talk show, Get UP, Jalen Rose argued that the Sixers should trade Ben Simmons and build around Joel Embiid.
While this theoretically makes sense, since he’s a better player then Simmons, Embiid’s injuries are alarming and could become a huge gamble to build around. He came into the league missing his first two seasons because of a broken navicular bone in his foot (a foot injury that ended Yao Ming’s career), only to battle knee injuries — on both knees — on numerous occasions the following seasons.
When healthy, Embiid is arguably the best center in the NBA: he plays on both ends, has excellent footwork in the post, and can also face up and shoot the three on occasion. Which is why if he wasn’t injury prone, building around him would be a no brainer, but the fact of the matter is that he isn’t.
To further exemplify this potential issue, hypothetically, if in the aftermath of trading Simmons, at some point Embiid suffered a severe injury and was never the same player or was forced to retire, then in what direction would the organization exactly go? Although Embiid’s contract contains injury protections, with Simmons gone (their highest valued trade asset at one point), Philadelphia would be in need of a franchise player to build around. Would the Sixers try and get creative by relying on free agency and trade or choose to rebuild from scratch?
On the other hand, if the Sixers were to commit to Simmons, you would have an enticing prospect who is durable, won rookie of the year his first season, but also came into his second year with the same game he had the prior season; he didn’t add anything new to his offensive repertoire and is still a liability on offense, due to his unwillingness to shoot a jump shot.
Though Simmons is a great young piece to have given his enormous upside, so far — and this can always change, of course — he has shown a lack of work ethic, which is a major red flag to see in a young player who is supposed to be one of the cornerstones of your franchise.
Philadelphia has a good young duo, players that rebuilding teams are seeking themselves and many veteran teams would love to get their hands on, but in order for them to take that next step, and avoid second-round playoff exits, the Sixers will need to make some tough decisions at some point and unfortunately they all revolve around these two players.